The trip was a hefty one from the start and so I factored in a stop off in Kuala Lumpur. It gave us time to get train tickets and wind down before heading further South. The train tickets to Singapore cost about £7 each, kids were the same price as adults.
The train left Kuala Lumpur Sentral at 2pm and eventually rocked up at the Malaysian exit city of Johor Bahru about 6hrs later. The Malaysian immigration get on the train and check your passports. Now, they don’t stamp it which means essentially you don’t get signed out of Malaysia. Apparently you can save your train ticket if you ever want to return. However, if you be quick you can hop off the train and go through immigration and get it stamped which was what I did. The last thing I want is for us to turn up in Malaysia in a few weeks and get blown out because it wasn’t stamped or because id lost the train ticket.
The train then leaves Johor Bahru and crosses the bridge into Singapore. 10 minutes later it pulls into Woodlands border station. This is as far North into Singapore as you can get and where all the formalities for entry into Singapore happen. This time you get off the train with all your bags and do the typical immigration stuff. From Woodlands you get back on the train to continue to the final stop of Singapore Railway station which is about as far South as you can get in Singapore. The problem is, it is quite far from the Singapore transit systems of MRT and LRT. If you ditch the train at Woodlands and go to the exit there is a bus stop straight to Woodlands MRT station. Its SGD$1 per person and takes 10 minutes.
Once there we got the MRT and headed straight for Changi Airport, probably the best airport in the world. It took about an hour and by the time we got to the airport it was gone midnight. Naturally we found a McDonalds and had a munch. We then went to the Crowne Plaza hotel which is conveniently located in Terminal 3. It is a 5 star hotel and where I usually stay when at Changi overnight, though not this time – £200 for one night, and it was almost 1am! We decided to find the hotel desk and try and get a local hotel but the only ones were right back in central Singapore. So it was a night in the airport. Changi has free wifi and so we found a comfy spot, the kids were out like lights and after a while spent bringing a few things together online I too was zonked.
Our flight to Jakarta was with Tiger Airways and from the budget terminal. Think, free computers with internet, free phone chargers, 50inch TV’s and lazy boy chairs all in departures. A very bumpy hour and half later and we landed in Jakarta.
Most western countries can apply for a Visa on arrival. Its $25USD payable in cash only. The Official Indonesian scam begins – So you’re in Indonesia and wanting to pay for an Indonesian Visa but it has to be paid in USD. Why? I’ll tell you why, so you have to change your local currency into USD at ridiculous rates. I have the FOREX rates updating daily on my phone and she was doing me out of $10USD using her rates. This is the Visa office and is before immigration and so as I was reminded when I was moaning at how I was getting cheated “you pay it or you return to Singapore” It really was that simple. So you get scammed, get a nice shiny sticker in your passport and hit the immigration queue. It occurred to me that you need a hotel reservation and flight out of Indonesia to qualify for entry. We had neither. Again. I saw people getting checked and pulling out airline reservations, however we didn’t get asked for anything, and so just steamrolled into Indonesia trying to forget about the remainder of the journey.
The vast majority of Indonesian airlines are dodgy. I don’t think we’re talking about bald tyres and the wings held on by duct tape dodgy, but there are huge safety concerns throughout the aviation industry about the safety of Indonesian airlines. In fact even the largest carrier of the country – Lion Air is on the EU ban list. There are a few which are considered safe (off the top of my head these are – Mandala, Guardia, Batavia, Citilink and Air Asia Indonesia) I went to all the offices to try and get us a flight to Denpasar, Bali but couldn’t. The prices were ridiculous and so we got a taxi to Gambir, which is the station Jakarta that the ‘posh’ train to Surabaya runs from. It was again stupidly expensive and a taxi driver took us to a station nearby to get the much cheaper train. It was less than half the price per person and had a child discount of 20% The total was 160,000IDR for an adult. We pulled out of Jakarta at 1930pm, sat amongst locals in a smoky, hot carriage drawing attention from everyone. It wasn’t long though and we were chatting and joking and at 7am the following morning we arrived into Surabaya after a journey that was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting and that had taken us right across one of the most populated and Islamic countries on the planet. Still, as I sat trying to get to sleep I couldn’t help thinking that it was so strange to see a Muslim woman breast feeding a child right opposite me. Far from the modern perception of Islam, but really a show how different nations interpret things and how different people adapt.
There was two choices in Surabaya. Basically we could get the 12hr bus which goes from A – B via a ferry but leaves only at night. Or we could switch stations in Surabaya and get the 9am train to Banyuwangi, then a ferry to Gillimanuk, Bali, then an onward bus to Denpasar. The beauty of this option is that it can all be booked on one rail ticket for 125000IDR per adult and 113,000IDR per child, that’s £9/£8 respectively. The journey takes 10hours.
Sometimes I don’t mind getting the train or bus. Other times I just want to be 39,000ft above the earth travelling at 900kmh toward my destination; That is exactly how I felt sat waiting for the train eating a chocolate covered donut fresh from Dunkin Donuts. The train was a sweat box and had the single most pointless fans in existence, if they had been switched off they would have been more use. It wasn’t long though before we were amongst the breathtaking mountainous and jungle scenery of Java. Amongst all the jungles were rice fields, tiny villages, waterfalls and huge Volcanoes that stood thousands of feet on the horizon. Eventually, we arrived and right outside was a tiny coach waiting for us. The journey to the ferry port is literally a minute. We boarded the ferry and went upstairs for some food whilst gazing out of the window at the huge mountainous jungle covered island of Bali. Think Jurassic Park and that is what it looks like.
The crossing was rough and so the kids were glued to their seats eating Indonesian style pot noodles (Pot Mie) waiting in amazement for this tropical paradise I had told them so much about.
The crossing took about an hour and then it was onward through the darkness for the 3 hour journey to Denpasar. Somehow we survived the trip, the driver was absolutely off his head, whilst negotiating blind corners on the wrong side of the road at 80km in absolute darkness he couldn’t have cared less about oncoming traffic. Or when overtaking people with cars heading directly at us he didn’t so much as flinch whilst the whole bus was holding on for dear life! Finally we got booted off in Denpasar, it was 11pm.
Instantly we were hounded by taxi (taksi) touts. I knew we needed to get to Legian beach and that it was 12km away. I obviously got some stupid prices and encountered my first instance of Bali scams; I had been there a minute. The basic jist is that you get a price that sounds like a much lower price but is disguised by the Balinese accent. I confirmed and drew out the numbers, only then was I told no I had got it wrong – obviously. Prices for the (50,000IDR) journey started at 100,000 and didn’t really get much better. So there were, with all our bags walking through pitch black Denpasar trying to find a meter (taxi with a meter) We finally got one and I told him “Tune Hotel, Legian Beach” he said he knew the place and off we went. After a while and by now almost midnight it was obvious he had no idea where he was going. I was fuming and had him switch off the meter, which he did. By about half midnight we found the place, I paid him and we went to get a room. There are two Tune hotels in Bali, I usually use Tune in SE Asia because they are cheap, have wifi and are a perfect place to sort things from. There is one in Kuta and one in Legian. Of course we had been left at Kuta and not Legian and there was no availability. We strolled the streets which were full of nightclubs and as lively as could be – even though it was almost 1am. Dodging offers of a ‘Rub and Tug’ and just about everything else, we finally found a place for 150,000 per night. That’s about a tenner in proper money.
It was about 1.30 am Wednesday morning and finally we were where we wanted to be. We had travelled thousands of miles, via India, Vietnam and across Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore and even the equator. But finally we were as far South as we would go. Finally we were in Bali.
Getting to the Southern Hemisphere pt 2